Notary publics are people licensed by a state government to authenticate signatures on official documents. Becoming a notary public can be a great way to bring in extra money — notaries can charge small fees to witness and provide their seal on documents for events like buying a home or concluding a large business transaction.
In this article, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide to becoming a notary public — how to find and fill out a notary application, make sure you’re adhering to your state’s notary laws, and get the materials you need to start to notarize documents. By the end, you’ll be ready to become a new notary in your state.
What Is a Notary Public?
Notaries public are people authorized by the state to witness and authenticate the signing of official documents. They have plenty of other responsibilities they can take on, including taking oaths and affirmations, affidavits, and statutory declarations, but mostly they are there to witness and authenticate the signing of documents, especially legal documents.
When you notarize a document, you are providing your sworn oath, backed by the state, that the document was filled out correctly and there was no fraud that occurred.
There are different state laws regarding the roles and duties of notaries in that state, which can usually be found online via the secretary of state’s office. You can also find them in a notary handbook that is specific for your state that can be found online or via your state’s notary association.
Eligibility for Notary Work
Before you start the process to apply for becoming a notary, you have to know if you have basic eligibility. Different states will have different state laws, but the base eligibility requirements for American notaries are that you:
- Are at least 18 years old
- A citizen or permanent legal resident of the United States
- Are able to read and write in English
Most states require you to live as a full-time legal resident of the state you are a notary in, but some states do make exceptions for people who live in a neighboring state and commute. Likewise, most states don’t require you to have lived in the city for any set period of time, but some do.
To find out for your specific state, the secretary of state’s office should have an online list of all the eligibility requirements.
If you fit the criteria, there are still a few things left to do to get eligibility.
Complete a Notary Education Course
While not required for all states, many of them will require you to complete a short course (three or four hours) that covers the basic duties of a notary public, and state laws about notaries that are specific to your location.
These courses are sometimes free, others will charge a small amount to take the course — this rarely exceeds $50.
If your state doesn’t require you to take a course, it’s not a bad idea to take one anyway, especially if you can find a free one online. It’ll better prepare you for the process ahead.
Take Out a Surety Bond
To become a notary, you will need to have a surety bond that will protect people if you make a mistake while acting as their notary. Typically states require you to have a bond out between $5,000 and $10,000. Luckily these bonds work just like insurance policies — you only pay a small premium to have the bond, and it’s there to protect your customers in the event something bad happens.
To find out the notary bond requirements for your state, and to see a list of approved bond agencies for your state, check on your secretary of state’s website.
The surety bond is to protect your customer if something goes wrong. Errors and Omissions Insurance, on the other hand, is there to protect you.
Most states don’t require you to carry personal insurance, but it’s really a good idea to have it. If you make an error as a notary and it causes financial damages to a customer, they might look to litigate, and you want to be protected. Again, this will be a monthly premium that you pay, but it shouldn’t be too much (as low as $30 monthly can get you $10,000 in coverage), and can protect you in the event of a problem.
The Application Process
You’ve gotten your surety bond, taken your course to become eligible, and you’ve got (or at least considered) private insurance to protect you. It’s time to become a notary applicant. The process starts like this:
Fill Out an Application
Notary public applications start the process and let the state know who you are and some general background information about yourself.
They are usually available for download on your state’s secretary of state website (or whichever government agency in your state handles notary commissions). Much of it can be completed on a computer, though you may need to print it out to sign it.
Some states require personal endorsements from people who know you, which are simple statements provided by co-workers, bosses, or people you know with good standing in the community. These statements are meant to show the state that you are someone who can be trusted with the duties of a notary.
Get Documentation in Order and Pay Application Fee
Most states will require that you include a photocopy of your photo ID, as well as a certificate that you completed your notary training course.
You will also typically pay the filing fee. Every fee is different by state, but most are below $200. These can usually be paid online by credit card.
At this point, it’s time to send in your application. The document should tell you how to submit it, either by mail or in person. It’s a really good idea to make a copy of your application before you send it in, especially if you send it in by mail.
Background Check and Written Exam
Important to remember: If you’ve been arrested or convicted, that is not necessarily disqualifying for you to become a notary. If you lie about it on your application, however, and it shows up on your background check, you will have your application denied.
The Written Exam
While not every state requires you to take a notary exam, the majority of them do. Some, like Colorado, require you to take the test before you even submit an application. Most will have you fill it out after you have submitted the application.
The exam is usually around 30 multiple-choice questions based on the duties and responsibilities of being a notary, and if you’ve taken the course or studied up, it should be something you can handle. They might also have some questions that are specific to your state and will be covered in your state’s notary handbook. (Also available on your state’s website in most states.)
In some states, your application fee will cover the cost of taking the exam, while others will charge a separate fee. While most people pass the exam the first time, you can usually take it a second time if you fail. You might have to pay a secondary fee to retake the test, but it will usually be less than the original fee.
Getting Started as a Notary
You’ve filled out the application, passed the background check, and nailed the notary test. Now, you wait. It can take up to six weeks for your application to go through the proper channels and receive approval. Once it does, however, you’ll get your commission certificate in the mail.
You’re now a notary! Well … almost. There are three things to do from there.
Take an Oath of Office
Once you’ve received your commission in the mail, you will need to take your oath of office. This can usually be done in front of a government official, a county clerk, or in front of another notary public. Information on how to take your oath of office in your state will be included with your commission certificate in the mail.
Register Your Signature
Most states will require you to have your signature on file so as to prevent fraud. The information on how to do this should again be sent with your commission certificate in the mail. Most states require you to file your signature either with the secretary of state or the County Recorder where you will be practicing.
Get Your Materials
To start work as a notary, you’ll need a notary journal and a notary seal. Your state will let you know approved vendors where you can purchase your seal, while journals are available online or in most office stores.
Your notary seal will have your name, your commission’s expiration date (states usually issue a four-year notary public commission), your county, and the words “Notary Public.” Because these are custom made, they can take a few weeks to get made.
Your journal can either be an official notary journal or, really, any notebook specifically set aside for the work. Your journal should have every notarial act you complete, and be organized in chronological order. Your state will have guidelines on what information needs to be included in your journal.
You’ve done it. You’re now ready to be a notary.
Bring in Extra Money as a Notary
Notaries are vitally important members of the community, and becoming one can be a great way to bring in extra money. By following the instructions in this article you’ll be ready to go out and become a notary, and start a new exciting career.